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In a Paris Kitchen, a Comedy that Genuinely Cooks

Remy, the rodent hero of Pixar's perfectly seasoned Ratatouille, is a country rat with city tastes. Where his furry relatives happily eat garbage, Remy watches cooking shows and has learned to sniff out spices. So when fate takes him to Paris, he hangs out at a restaurant made famous by a cable-TV chef.

Alas, restaurants don't like having rats around, so Remy perches on a skylight, feeling sorry for himself. But when he sees a hapless kitchen drudge spill the soup that's been left to simmer — then try to cover up his crime by refilling the pot with handfuls of haphazardly chosen ingredients — he's so indignant that he falls through the skylight into the sink. (Watch a clip of the scene.)

From there it's just a skitter and a leap into what you might call a series of kitchen ballets, with Remy sometimes sprinkling ingredients into pots, other times dodging knives thrown his way by the appalled cuisiniers. What our long-tailed hero needs is a front man, so he teams up with that clueless garbage boy, sitting under his chef's hat and telling him what to do. Imagine a culinary Cyrano de Bergerat, with the boy who's acceptable in the kitchen wanting to confess to an admired lady chef about the rodent who isn't, and you've got the idea.

Director Brad Bird is the guy who made The Incredibles, and like that film's suburban superhero characters, Ratatouille's food-obsessed folks inhabit a recognizably real world, sniping about pre-packaged meals and inadequate cheeses. They even educate an audience that may not know its chives from its chervil on the finer points of restaurant terminology: Don't be surprised if your kids come home knowing what a sous-chef does, or asking for rice with saffron.

With food so lovingly digitized that you can tell stale bread from fresh, Ratatouille isn't just amusing, it's downright mouth-watering. Also very pretty — Paris hasn't looked so gorgeous since Gene Kelly danced there — and engagingly down-to-earth, from its faintly harrowing rat swarms (Remy's family drops by his workplace on occasion), to its hilariously demanding food critic, Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole).

The studio is reportedly nervous, in fact, about whether Ratatouille is too sophisticated — but it's silly to underestimate the public appetite when a picture is this much fun. Kids are gonna gobble Ratatouille up; adults will relish its wit, and everyone will want to go out to eat after.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bob Mondello
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.